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Why I’m Tired Of World Cup Qualifying

It goes without saying that I’m a massive football supporter. But, I am honestly so sick and tired of the long, dragged out qualifying process for the 2010 World Cup. And it’s not even over after today. Then we’ll go into the playoff process.

It’s scary to think that the first game of qualification for the 2010 World Cup kicked off on August 25, 2007 — over two years ago. And the final play-off games won’t conclude until November 18, 2009. Simply, the process is too long and a new system needs to be developed.

Thankfully, the Premier League returns this weekend after a two-week break and we’ll be able to indulge in competitive football matches that have interesting storylines and wonderful football on display. I’m so looking forward to watching the games this weekend after an agonizing past two weeks which have felt like an eternity. Give me Aston Villa against Chelsea, Blackburn versus Burnley, Wigan against Manchester City, Pompey vs Spurs and Sunderland against Liverpool any day of the week over the World Cup qualifiers.

I’m sure part of the reason I’m missing the Premier League is because of the ease and comfort of knowing when the games will be on and being used to my weekend ritual. With the World Cup, there are so many more unknowns such as unusual kick-off times, whether games will be on television and figuring out which channels are showing the matches.

But then there’s the topic of quality of football. The latter stages of the Champions League tournament are often more exciting than previous World Cup finals. And you could argue that the level of play in the Premier League can be, at times, more exciting than World Cup games (whether they be in the qualifying rounds or the actual tournament itself). Sure, nothing beats the passion and excitement of the World Cup. But take that away and judge it on the football alone, and you have an interesting debate on your hands.

It’s not just the Premier League either. Club football in general, to me, is far more exciting than the World Cup qualifying games. We were spoiled by two of the greatest club games in recent memory just before the international break happened (the Manchester City, and Sevilla’s win against Real Madrid). But for me, I much prefer the regularity and the excitement of club football.

Heck, the World Cup tournament itself is longer and features more teams that it should have. Condense it down from four weeks to two, and you’ll have fewer football supporters getting burned out before the tournament is over.

Thank god the Premier League returns this Saturday morning!

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013. View all posts by Christopher Harris →
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17 Responses to Why I’m Tired Of World Cup Qualifying

  1. man99utd says:

    Amen Gaffer, can’t wait for the weekend….

  2. Jon says:

    Hey Gaffer,

    I agree, and I suspect almost everyone who follows club football in any European country does too. The International Break is agonizing for any club supporter, not only because of the two weeks spent waiting for meaningful football to resume, but also because of the potential to lose players to injury sustained on international duty.

    Here is my problem – you’ll get a lot of people who agree with your view that “simply, the process is too long and a new system needs to be developed”, but almost no one who will actually suggest any workable solution. It’s exactly the same as all my fellow Arsenal fans who say “Arsenal would be great with one more striker, one defender, and one quality defensive holding midfielder” without actually suggesting any real players that could be realistically had in these positions. Good to point out a problem, but what are your thoughts on a solution.

    It would be nice to see the qualification system streamlined and condensed, but how? You can’t have a month-long massive European qualifier tournament the summer before the Cup – no one will agree to release players that long, give up their holidays (if they are the players themselves, and it will conflict with the Confederations Cup and some national leagues that play in the summer (like Russia).

    Would you rather see domestic leagues put on hold for a month or more in the fall every four years – just sort of swallow the whole international break pill all at once? Can’t see domestic leagues or players agreeing to that either.

    So how?

    • The Gaffer says:

      Jon, good question. To me, the qualifying should be similar in nature to the FA Cup where the minnows play against each other in earlier rounds until they make it through to a specific round. This removes the weaker teams and allows the actual qualifying groups to be smaller (and thus, as a result, play fewer and more competitive and meaningful games).

      Get rid of the playoff system. Top two teams from each group qualify for the World Cup.

      In theory, it sounds good but I’d have to open a spreadsheet to see how this works out. Ideally, I would like to see only 16 teams qualify for the World Cup, so the tournament could be much shorter and full of more quality.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  3. Lyle says:

    I disagree. Qualification has got to happen somehow. I believe FIFA should try to have all the leagues shorten or end their seasons two months ahead of the tournament so national teams can be together for a significant period before the Cup.

    What Europe could do is have all the small teams play each other and have them qualify into an upper level tournament with the bigger Uefa countries, kind of like Africa and North America do it.

    Don’t hate on the World Cup. What else do countries like Argentina and Brazil have now… the U.S. too?

  4. Peter says:

    You really want to shorten the sport’s showcase tournament, something that happens once every four years, from four weeks to two? Why?

    There is nothing they can really do about the length of WC qualifying in my view – unless you wanted more substantial breaks in the club season or even shorter summer breaks (is that even possible?)

    • The Gaffer says:

      Peter, with the World Cup tournament, I try to watch every game. For the past few tournaments, I usually get burnt out near the end. It’s psychically draining!

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  5. Ivan says:

    There is not much anyone can do to streamline and shorten the qualifying process. But, yes, I can’t wait for the regualr leagues to resume this weekend. South America’s qualifyers have been extremely dramatic and interesting, with a lot at stake in tonight’s Uruguai- Argentina game. Europe, however, was somewhat boring and anti-climactic this time around. Almost everything was decided before the last 2 rounds of play…Hopefully playoffs wil pair up some interesting teams, Ukraine-Russia; France-Portugal come to mind…

  6. Mark Flint says:

    World Cup qualifiers underscore just how elite the players in the Premiership are. With that said, I wonder if some players are more motivated by the paycheck than nationalism.

  7. Leeboy says:

    The international game is important. International breaks allow for a greater perspective of the worldwide game. It gives fans the chance to stop worrying about their clubs, have a weekend off, and get patriotic! No point in change for the sake of change – its been like this for a long time now.
    I can see the annoyance in not having a week of PL football, and perhaps this creates a gap in the US due to the fragmented nature of coverage of games, but in England the press (especially recently) all rally around England and football in general receives as much coverage as ever

  8. eplnfl says:

    Yes and No Chris.

    I will miss the recent excitement created in the US concerning the national team, not just for WC qualification but other competitions that the team has taken part in over the summer. It has been a special time for the US team.

    On the other hand, seeing various playoffs continue especially in UEFA seems to be overload. If you can’t get the field set by now think of a better way.

  9. brn442 says:

    Funny, I was thinking the same thinking the same thing.

    It was less than 20 years ago that Aston Villa’s keeper Mark Bosnich was actually threatened with suspension for not representing his country, Australia in a WC qualifier, oh my how things have changed, as that would be laughable today. The rise of club football with the expansion of the Champion’s league has made playing at the highest level a daunting task, prompting more and more players to choose early retirement from international football in order to save their club careers.

    That said, International football, especially the World Cup is still the pinnacle of football, Sorry Gaffer – after all you’re from Wales so I understand why you may look forward to Club Football. A Brazilian or an Englishman may differ. There is no highest honour for a player than when he is asked to play for his country. The answer may not be getting rid of WC qualifying matches but the amount. One partial solution could be: Giving the highest finishers in their respective confederation tournament – The Euros (the quarterfinalists) Copa America, The Gold Cup (the top two) etc. an automatic berth in the World Cup, the rest will have fewer matches to play, plus it would make the afore mentioned tournaments more interesting.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Don’t get me wrong. I do love the World Cup. And by the time the tournament begins, I’ll be just as excited about it as everyone else. But it’s just the qualifying process that is so agonizingly laborious.

      I like your idea of giving incentives for countries to do well in the tournaments in their hemisphere and it sure would have made the Gold Cup Final more competitive.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

  10. boringarsenal says:

    Gaffer, you’re right on the money. I’ve been watching club football, aka League One & Two this last week; God bless Sky Sports!! As an American who more readily identifies with the England team, and Ireland as well, I still get fed-up with these two week layovers for club matches. I always feel that momentum is lost during the International break, and yes, the qualifiers are pure torture at this late date. Ay, it could be worse, it could be the Europa League.
    One more, Gaffer….any chance that the Football League could get more exposure here; I catch the odd Championship match on Setanta / Sky on Saturday’s, but it would be nice to catch the lads in L1 & L2, they carry the heart and soul of English football.

  11. Dave G says:

    The system is flawed
    The European sections should mirror what Concacaf does and weed out the Minnows of the minnows…and then have a second round of qualifying like the FA Cup 3rd round when the big guns enter the fray
    With you being Welsh and me being Irish, we are minnows so to speak, but not small enough to have to play before the second round… :)
    “The Awful 16″ based on final positions from the 9 groups just completed…
    Pos Pld GD Pts
    5 Albania 10 -7 7
    6 Malta 10 -26 1
    5 Luxembourg 10 -21 5
    6 Moldova 10 -12 3
    6 San Marino 10 -46 0
    5 Azerbaijan 10 -10 5
    6 Liechtenstein 10 -21 2
    5 Estonia 10 -15 8
    6 Armenia 10 -16 4
    5 Kazakhstan 10 -18 6
    6 Andorra 10 -36 0
    6 Faroe Islands 10 -15 4
    5 Montenegro 10 -5 9
    6 Georgia 10 -12 3
    4 Macedonia 8 -6 7
    5 Iceland 8 -6 5

    Put this lot into 4 groups of 4
    4 winners play off and the overall winner gets to go on to qualifying
    53 teams minus the awful 16 = 37
    +1 (Awful 16 winner)=38 teams In European qualifying

    there are 13 spots available
    4 groups of 6 top 2 advance = 8 spots
    2 groups of 7 top 2 advance =4 spots

    best 2 runner up’s play off for 13th and final spot
    No last minute seeding bullshit needed!…(I’m not bitter ;) LOL)

    There…now that’s sorted…go put the kettle on!

    • Jon says:

      Hey Dave,

      A lot of people have suggested this idea – “pre-qualifying” for the weaker sides. But would you suspend club football played in weeks when these internationals occur? If so, then you haven’t solved the problem of the long drawn-out qualifier interupting local leagues. If not, then what of the occasional players who come from minnow countries but are stars for their local club? It’s not as big a problem as with the world powers, whose stars are all stars in league play. But for example, Stevan Jovetic plays for Montenegro, on your list, and Fiorentina, a Serie A club. When Montenegro go to play in your pre-qualifier, would Fiorentina have to play without him? How is that fair to Fiorentina, who might have to play a massive league tie that same day, especially when Jovetic can’t refuse the call-up under FIFA rules?

      Your solution is good in that it might make the “real” qualifiers more exciting by reducing the meaningless minnow vs. minnow and minnow vs. giant games, but I don’t think it solves the length of qualifying or the interruption of club football problem.

      • Dave G says:

        Fair enough point Jon and I don’t know off hand what the solution might be other than having these teams playing the “pre qualifying of the qualifers” in June and July while EURO 2012 are going on…6 games and 2 more to follow if you win
        I know its not ideal, but none of the teams were going to be playing in the Euro’s anyway and 6-8 games over 8 weeks is not that bad…if it IS a pain, well then…those countries might just be willing to do something to improve the level of football in their country and pull themselves out of the basement.
        I know it sounds harsh….but seriously, the 4 teams of 4 would actually be a quite competitive league and maybe their might even be a way to fit the 4 group winners into the qualifers rather than adding a play off?
        in that case it would give you 41 teams….
        6 groups of 6 Top 2 Qualify (12)
        1 group of 5 Winner Qualifies (1)

        Its not ideal, but it would make for a very competitive posse of groups in the European section, but I doubt it will ever happen as UEFA/FIFA just showed us all exactly what is important to them with their last minute bullshit seeding of the playoffs in order to prevent some of the big guns drawing each other

  12. DaveMo says:

    If you’re getting tired of WC qualifying just as it’s wrapping up, then I would say it’s about the right length. You’re always going to say “I’m sick of it” going into the last week if all the results have been determined by then, even if qualifying is streamlined to half of what we have now.

    I disagree that the World Cup itself needs to be “repackaged” to be more exciting for people with an attention deficit. Yes, the Euro tournament is quick, and fun, and high-quality, but it still isn’t the World Cup. The World Cup dwarfs the prestige of winning the Euros precisely because of the size and scope, and every country that qualifies has a chance. You may call half of them minnows, but it’s massive national pride and honor for all 32 of the countries that qualify for the “final”. Taking that away from 16 countries would more likely kill the tournament’s popularity in all the places that would have no hope of qualifying again.

    Maybe watching every match is your problem – try tivo-ing them all, and then use that service that rates the matches (without disclosing the result) and choose one game to watch after work each night. I choose the countries I have a rooting interest in, and I watch their matches and the matches that impact them. That may be 3/4ths of the games, but I don’t get burned out. I wouldn’t change a thing.

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